Legalization is only halfway to justice

❝ Happy 4/20, everyone! Now that pot is legal in 33 states and counting, it’s a pretty heady moment for stoner culture. Fans of cannabis can celebrate 4/20 openly and in style in more places than ever before. And even if you’re not in a state that legalized pot, there’s a still a pretty good chance that the cops won’t hassle you as you spend 4/20 doing your thing.

If you’re a white person

❝ Sorry to bring you down, but that’s the harsh reality. If you love pot AND you’re white, everything is totally awesome these days. In 2017, 81% of cannabis executives were white. Meanwhile, even in states where pot is legal, and even though Black people and white people use pot at similar rates, Black people are still arrested way more often than whites. We love 4/20 and we love legalization, but that’s not OK.

That’s not enough.

RTFA for facts and ideas. No rest without justice.

Which states lead the way in mass incarceration

Following the start of the war on drugs in the 1970s, America’s prison population skyrocketed as the country locked up even the lowest-level drug offenders in hopes of tamping down on drug use and the crime wave of the 1960s through 1980s.

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While incarceration can help bring down crime to some degree, criminal justice experts generally agree US imprisonment has become an ineffective deterrent to crime as it’s extended far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Federal and state data shows there is no correlation between decreases in the prison population and rises in crime. And an analysis by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project found the 10 states that shrunk incarceration rates the most over the past five years saw bigger drops in crime than the 10 states where incarceration rates most grew…

So far, there has been a small reversal. The overall imprisonment rate dropped, particularly in California, in the past few years. And the US corrections population — the number of people in jail, prison, parole, and probation — in 2013 dropped to its lowest point since 2003, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But the reversal hasn’t been enough to keep up with the rapid decline of violent crime across the country. Federal statistics show that the incarceration rate fell by roughly 1 percent between 2000 and 2013, even as violent crime fell by about 27 percent in the same time period.

Which begs the usual question: Are Americans stupid or ignorant?

We know what our politicians are. Cowards, opportunists, careerists. Simple public opinion, the pressure of national sentiment is rarely sufficient to overcome so-called lobbying from those who profit from a useless status quo. Whether that lobbying come from the Koch Bros or the [NRA] gun manufacturers lobby is irrelevant. Corporate special interests overrule the needs and wants of the American people – unless those people seriously stand up and raise a glorious noise. Dissent and demonstration catches the attention of even the least competent politician.

There is a corporate prison lobby that ties in nicely with Tea Party Republicans, police benevolent associations, leftovers from the Confederacy – reactionary dunderheads all. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens get to fund these storehouses for the inopportune, pick up the tab for backwards political decisions.

Nixon’s War on Drugs still marches down the highway to Nowhere.

Jailed, some mentally ill inmates are in permanent lockdown

Day or night, the lights inside cell 135C of central New Mexico’s Valencia County Detention Center were always on.

Locked inside, alone, for months, Jan Green – a 52-year-old computer technician with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – rocked on a bench for hours, confiding in an imaginary companion…

Though isolated, Green was, in a sense, far from alone. In jails around the country, inmates with serious mental illnesses are kept isolated in small cells for 23 hours a day or more, often with minimal treatment or human interaction.

Some states have moved to curb long-term “solitary confinement” in prisons, where research shows it can drive those with mental illnesses further over the edge. But there has been little attention to the use of isolation in the country’s 3,300 local jails, the biggest mental health facilities in many communities.

Unlike prisons, jails hold those awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences, limiting time in lockdown. But inmates with serious mental illnesses are more likely to break rules and stay jailed longer, increasing the chances of weeks or months in isolation that risks inflicting additional psychological damage.

A report obtained by The Associated Press found mentally ill inmates in New York City’s jails were disproportionately put in lockdown, some for thousands of days. Inmates who spent time in isolation were far more likely to harm themselves, according to a second report by staff of the city’s health department…

Jails use isolation to punish inmates, but also to separate those with serious mental illnesses because they may be victimized by fellow inmates or are considered dangerous. Many end up in lockdown because of behavior linked to mental illnesses, experts say.

“If they can’t follow the rules outside the facility, how in the world do you expect a mentally ill person to be able to function as an inmate?” says Mitch Lucas, assistant sheriff of Charleston County, South Carolina, and president-elect of the American Jail Association. “So you end up having to deal with whatever tools you have at hand and, in many jails, the tool is restrictive housing and that’s it.”

The number of inmates with mental illnesses has been rising since the 1970s, when states began closing psychiatric hospitals without creating and sustaining comprehensive community treatment programs…

That’s putting it politely. Between Republicans and conservative Democrats, not only state psychiatric hospitals were closed, Reagan tried to end the very existence of the US Public Health Service including their system of Public Health hospitals. Often the sole chance for healthcare for the poor, survival for the mentally ill – Reagan created the avalanche of homeless that swept our nation in following years. Most especially among VietNam era vets who he also ordered blocked from collecting unemployment insurance if they decided against re-enlisting in the US military.

Drone choppers used to try to smuggle contraband into jails

…Four people have been arrested after a remote-controlled helicopter was allegedly used to fly tobacco into Calhoun state prison, Georgia…

Prison guards at the Calhoun state jail spotted a drone hovering over the prison yard and alerted police who began a search of the local area.

Inside a nearby car they found a six-rotor remote-controlled helicopter, between 1lb and 2lb of tobacco and several mobile phones.

Four people were arrested and could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison.

“It is a surprise. I’ve never seen a helicopter,” Sheriff Josh Hilton told reporters.

It follows a similar attempt at the weekend in a prison in Canada.

A drone was spotted flying over the Gatineau jail in Quebec on Sunday. Guards there failed to find either the device, its payload or those flying it.

Remote-controlled flying devices are becoming the tool of choice for those determined to smuggle in contraband, Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec’s correctional officers’ union, told the Ottawa Sun.

“Usually the drones are carrying small packages of drugs or other illicit substances,” he said…”Now that drones are relatively cheap to buy, they’ve become the best way to smuggle drugs inside,” he added.

Makes sense to me. Once again, our military demonstrated new and useful technology to civilian society. Why expect the criminal portion of our nations to avoid technological progress.

Rwanda’s poop-powered prisons


Prisoner poop + cow poop

In order to reduce energy costs and protect Rwanda’s forests, the country’s 14 prison have introduced biogas burners, so they are now 75% powered by the inmates’ own waste. The burners need one thing – a regular, reliable supply of waste – and jails are perfect.

The biogas is produced by combining the inmates’ waste from Nsinda Prison’s 24 toilets with cow dung from the jail’s farm cows and water. The prisoners’ diet is not rich enough to produce top quality gas on its own but the pungent cocktail of human and animal waste produces premium gas.

Way too smart for anyone running a prison in the US to adopt.

Netherlands closing disused prisons. Are we missing something?


Nebahat Albayrak
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Dutch Justice Ministry plans to shut down eight prisons and cancel new prison building programs to deal with what it calls a capacity surplus, according to Dutch Justice State Secretary Nebahat Albayrak.

The move will lead to the scrapping of 1,200 jobs and is expected to save 164 million euros.

“Currently, there is detention capacity of some 14,000 cell places, while according to the estimates there is a need for about 12,000 cells. This overcapacity is expected to continue for some years,” Albayrak said in a policy document on national prison system sent to the Dutch parliament Tuesday.

The cell surplus is caused by falling crime rate, Albayrak said.

Here we are – studying a nation perpetually castigated by Law and Order nutballs for being too soft on drug users, too free and easy on sex, having too many unions and too much personal freedom in the face of a large immigrant population and the danger of terrorism – ending up with empty beds in the prison system.

What’s wrong with this picture of freedom, tolerance – absent Christian morality? Apparently, damned little.

Thanks, McCullough, a co-conspirator at DU

Public safety report: 1 in 100 doin’ time

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety.

As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise. Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before. However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years. And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole…

The report points out the necessity of locking up violent and repeat offenders, but notes that prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the nation’s population at large. Instead, more people are behind bars principally because of a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing laws, imposing longer prison stays on inmates.

As a result, states’ corrections costs have risen substantially. Twenty years ago, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds—their primary discretionary dollars—on corrections. Last year, they spent more than $44 billion in general funds, a 315 percent jump, and more than $49 billion in total funds from all sources. Coupled with tightening state budgets, the greater prison expenditures may force states to make tough choices about where to spend their money. For example, Pew found that over the same 20-year period, inflation-adjusted general fund spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.

We’ve posted on some of these questions. More is needed. To view the entire report visit the Public Safety Performance Project‘s web site.